The UK’s Education Secretary and Minister for Women and Equalities Nicky Morgan recently released a guide to schools in England and Wales meant to help teachers identify students vulnerable to radicalization—an increasing problem in the United Kingdom, where radical Islamic groups, like ISIS, have been recruiting for quite some time. Intolerance of homosexuality, however, is one of the key factors for identifying potential violent extremists. A recent BBC article covers the story:
The education secretary was speaking as schools in England and Wales were issued with a guide to identifying pupils in danger of radicalisation. She said attacking core British values or being extremely intolerant of homosexuality were examples of behaviour that could raise the alarm…The advice is designed to enable teachers to identify pupils who may have come under the influence of extremist organisations or being “groomed” by extremists. Teachers would then be expected to alert senior staff, social services, and the police. The move has not been prompted by the massacre in Tunisia but follows David Cameron’s call for people to become “intolerant of intolerance.” Ms Morgan told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “Radicalisation or the risk of children being drawn into nonviolent extremism is a very real threat in this country.” She said the advice—which will apply to all schools, including free schools and private schools—would ensure teachers were better able to identify children who had become radicalised by changes in their behaviour, or attitudes or remarks they made. It would also help teachers identify pupils who were being “groomed” on the Internet. Ms Morgan said it was “a safeguarding” issue comparable to protecting children at risk from gangs or sexual abuse. Asked to come up with an example of behaviour that might be a cause for concern, she said: “Sadly, Isis are extremely intolerant of homosexuality.” She was asked whether a pupil who said they thought homosexuality was “evil” would be reported to the police. Ms Morgan said it would “depend very much on the context of the discussion” and schools were capable of using their judgement. The government has defined extremism as: “Vocal or active opposition to fundamental British values, including democracy, the rule of law, individual liberty, and mutual respect and tolerance of different faiths and beliefs.” The move is part of a wider obligation being placed on all public bodies from Wednesday to identify and report individuals at risk. (emphasis added)
Given the aggressive and increasingly successful recruitment efforts by ISIS and similar groups, it is in everyone’s interest to be vigilant against the radicalization of others and especially children. The problem in the UK is particularly bad on college campuses, and there is no question that something must be done to undermine terrorists’ recruitment success on social media and elsewhere. What is strange, is that the actual “Prevent Duty” guides found here and the social media guide found here do not mention anything about sexuality. Why did the MP bring it up? Sure, radical Islam is violently opposed to homosexuality, and it is certainly a “red flag” if educators overhear students speaking of physical violence toward homosexuals. Violent intolerance and bullying are unacceptable and must remain so. But the individual who asked the secretary essentially whether or not an individual identifying homosexuality as “evil” or as “sin” should be reported, made a very good point.
As an evangelical Christian, I happen to believe that homosexual behavior is a sin, but violence or simply blatant unkindness toward anyone of any sexuality or gender identity is completely incompatible with Christian faith. This is why the education secretary rightly responded that context matters. But David Cameron’s efforts at being “intolerant of intolerance” are going to run into some very difficult situations if the rule of law and liberty are going to endure.
I don’t have a definitive resolution to the inevitable tensions between Cameron’s well-intended efforts and liberty, but how one defines intolerance will be very tricky. Plus, like legal issues of slander and libel here in the United States, it may simply depend on who says what to whom, when, and where. There’s a profound sensitivity needed to navigate these issues in pluralistic societies like the United Kingdom or the United States. In other words, how do you tolerate dissent and disagreement without simultaneously exposing the nation to the growth of radical Islam and other violent extremists in your own backyard? As Dostoevsky’s Brother Karamazov (book 5, and especially chapter 5) reminds us—freedom may be the very soil in which the darkest evils grow, but liberty is essential to human existence and is the same soil for the growth of virtue and love. In other words, liberty is not the problem. Moral decay and the breakdown of families, churches, and other communities are what leave young people vulnerable to the radicalization of ISIS recruiters. As such, I’m skeptical of how successful such “prevent duties” and corresponding statutory efforts can be.
The US Hate Crimes Act, passed in October 2009, is another way of “not tolerating intolerance.” According to the law website, Nolo, the act “expanded the list of covered crimes to include those motivated by a victim’s actual or perceived gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, or disability, and removed the federally protected activity requirement.” It also “provided more money to investigate and prosecute hate crimes, required the FBI to track statistics on hate crimes against transgender people (the FBI already tracked hate crimes against other groups), and was the first federal law to provide protections to transgender people.”
It remains unclear to me (and I say this with an openness to clarification and argument) why labeling already-illegal activities as “hate crimes” actually prevents the said crimes, and I personally would define domestic abuse and child abuse of any kind as remarkably hateful. How about abortion? We need not go down that road today, but you get my point.
Since the rulings in Windsor (2013) and Obergefell (2015), plenty of orthodox Christians (among others) have worried that hate crime laws at all levels of government could be expanded to not simply prosecute violent crimes against protected classes, but even to prosecute dissent and disagreement in the form of speech. Will pastors be jailed for preaching on the biblical preference for heterosexual marriage? The answer, for now, is no. In an excellent white paper published this week by the Christian Legal Society, they say “keep in mind that under the First Amendment’s free speech clause, there is no legitimate claim of ‘hate speech'” (4). While other potentially devastating lawsuits are around the corner—impacting Christian schools, outreach ministries, and church-facility use especially—the First Amendment still stands in the way of those opposed to our most basic religious freedoms.
The question is how long it will remain that way, and what will you do to defend it?
Josh Bowman is a PhD candidate at the Catholic University of America, a member of the Anglican Church in North America, and a resident of southeast Michigan.